The economic downturn may be hurting college enrollment, according to a financial aid search firm.

Many prospective students are delaying academic plans or setting their sights on less prestigious colleges, says Cappex.com L.L.C., Highland Park, Ill., the company that runs the MeritAid.com Web site.

The company commisioned a survey of about 2,500 prospective college students and found that:

- 16% said they are putting their college searches on hold because they doubt their families will be able to pay for college.

- 57% said they are considering a less prestigious college due to affordability issues.

- 85% said they have increased time spent searching for scholarship money or merit aid programs to help pay for tuition.

Some students said that they may attend a 2-year college rather than a 4-year college for financial reason, MeritAid reports.